Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 7, 2018

I defeat my Macbook

Filed under: chess — louisproyect @ 8:51 pm

The alt-right and antifa: way past their shelf-life

Filed under: anarchism,anti-fascism,Fascism — louisproyect @ 7:53 pm

Richard Spencer (l) with his lawyer and fellow fascist Kyle Bristow (r), who has retired from politics

Despite the meltdown of Newsweek, there is still some decent reporting going on. In a piece dated March 5th, Michael Edison Hayden poses the question “Is the Alt-Right Dying?” and provides ample evidence to the affirmative. Needless to say, this will have consequences for the adventurist-prone elements of the anarchist movement that takes its cue from Mark Bray’s “Anti-Fascist Handbook” rather than the Marxist classics. Among Hayden’s findings:

–Kyle Bristow, an attorney and key ally to Richard Spencer was dropping out of politics a day before he was slated to host a white nationalist conference in Detroit, Michigan.

–Richard Spencer was only able to attract an audience of 30 to 40 people at a talk he gave at Michigan State on March 5th. As expected, the antifa people came there spoiling for a fight and got one. Perhaps the arrest of 24 antifa activists, 12 on weapons felony charges that carries a five year prison term, might persuade others of a similar inclination that another approach is needed when seen in cost-benefit terms. After all, Spencer got media coverage that a talk to a tiny audience ignored by the left would have never generated.

–After Spencer aligned with the Traditionalist Workers Party led by Matthew Heimbach, the Daily Stormer began to deride the alliance since it saw Heimbach as “good-natured but socially awkward fat kid” whose “communist” rhetoric would turn people off from the fascist cause. Heimbach is consciously modeling himself on Gregor Strasser, not likely the sort of thing that will draw the average bigot into his ranks. As for Spencer, it seems that he is a huge fan of Chapo Trap House.

Remember when an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley provoked the kind of fighting that some viewed as a precursor of a virtual civil war of the kind seen in Weimar Germany in the late 20s? His appearance on the Bill Maher show convinced some that we had to get ready for some kick-ass street-fighting (at least if you were under 25 and had an excess of testosterone.)

Now, Yiannopoulos is yesterday’s news. To a large extent, the cancellation of a big book contract by Simon and Schuster had something to do with that. Unlike Bill Maher, Yiannopoulos’s editor was not particularly taken by him as his feedback to the half-wit would indicate:

Comment [A3]: Avoid parenthetical insults—they just diminish your authority. Throughout the book you’re [sic] best points seem to be lost in a sea of self-aggrandizement and scattershot thinking.

Comment [A185]: This is definitely not the place for more of your narcissism.

Comment [A293]: …You can’t just toss out poorly thought out theories about “going back into the closet,” as you might in a college lecture.

Comment [A407]: Tiresome and off the point.

Comment [A418]: The whole chapter is a problem in tone. Your usual style NEGATES any value your information might have.

Comment [A424]: Ego and self-aggrandizement backfire in book.

(For other editorial comments, read here.)

Perhaps the biggest factor in the marginalization of both the alt-right and antifa is how clearly the focus has shifted toward the “normal” functioning of the state rather than any fascist movement that by its very definition aims at the overthrow of the state. One can understand why the Krupps would have funded Adolf Hitler in 1925 but why in the world would the Kochs fund Richard Spencer when Trump and company are doing such a great job at smashing what’s left of the welfare state? Keep in mind that Hitler was needed to destroy the Weimar Republic, which despite all its flaws was far to the left of the DSA’s most utopian dreams of socialism.

Another thing to keep in mind is that anybody with their head screwed on right recognizes that the embryo of mass resistance to Trumpism was on display in West Virginia this week when schoolteachers inspired by the legacy of militant coal miner resistance to the bosses went out on strike and won a 5 percent pay raise that is almost unheard of in today’s austere economic environment. I worked 21 years at Columbia University and never got more than a 2 percent raise.

It is funny to see how the anarchists reacted to the strike. On the It’s Going Down website, you can read an article about the strike by an IWW member who after writing several thousand words about how important it was decides to distinguish his revolutionary purity from the ordinary resistance of ordinary people:

Though, this may not be my idealized idea of struggle, I recognize that this is a working-class struggle, unique in its moment while also deeply rooted in the militant class struggle that West Virginia is famous for. I encourage us to explore the use of churches and other cultural structures that make up the fabric of sometimes rural and sometimes geographically isolated communities that many workers come from as avenues for revolutionary networking.

Maybe this person should realize that his or her “idealized idea of struggle” (idealized idea? Talk about redundancy) should be laid to rest. Struggles grow organically out of the lived experience of the people who take part in them, not by reading Bakunin.

Finally, the teachers strike might drive home the reality that armed groups like Redneck Revolt have passed their shelf life. The real struggle in West Virginia is not having shoot-outs with a practically non-existent neo-Nazi movement but trying to figure out ways to build the mass movement. That takes brains, not trigger fingers.

March 5, 2018

Millionaire leftist Bard professors removed from Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet

Filed under: Academia,bard college,economics,Greece — louisproyect @ 5:03 pm

Dimitris Papadimitriou

Rania Antonopoulos

Husband and wife Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos are big-time post-Keynesian economists at Bard College who just resigned from Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet. It seems that Antonopoulos was receiving a 1000 euro per month housing subsidy for her rental apartment in the swanky Kolonaki neighborhood in Athens even though the couple were multimillionaires. Apparently this did not sit well with ordinary working people suffering through a terrible austerity.

The right-wing press in Greece dug up the dirt on the couple and used it to scandalize Syriza since it is perceived as not serving the bourgeoisie adequately. Think of Fox News going after Obama and you’ll get what has been taking place. Neos Kosmos, a newspaper based in Melbourne, Australian with no discernible ties to the right-wing as far as I can tell, supplied the economic data on the two economists:

According to their tax records, the couple declare an annual income of more than half a million dollars, while their assets and property portfolios are valued in the millions. The Greek media report that the couple owns a luxury villa of 300 sq.m. plus 180 sq.m. supplementary space, 80 sq.m. swimming pool on the island of Syros; a 110-square-meter apartment in New York; a 31.6 sqm apartment in Glyfada, Athens; assets in stocks and bank deposits worth of more than 3,000,000 euros.

The last time I saw such opulence married to “socialist” pretensions was back in 2007 when Jared Kushner’s newspaper—the NY Observer—reported that Trotskyist chieftain Jack Barnes had just sold his West Village condo for a cool $1.87 million.

Interestingly enough, despite her wealth, Antonopoulos went out of her way to file for the housing subsidy as she indicated in a statement to the press:

According to Law 4366/2015 which entitles non-parliamentary members of the government to receive a residence subsidy, since they do not own a home in Athens, I have requested and received a significant amount as a rent subsidy. This provision of the legislator has been enjoyed since 1994 by all non-Athens deputies without any other income conditions.

Many months after its institutionalization I was informed that as a non-parliamentary member of the government I am entitled to a subsidy, and indeed by my colleagues. So I filed an application and since then I have received a total of 23,000 euros for two years.

What a little piggy. She and her husband have a joint income of $520,000 per year and still she applies for a housing subsidy as if she were a single mom working at Walmarts with 3 kids to support. Even after she got caught with her grubby fingers in the till, she  refused at first to resign as the Greek Reporter indicated on February 26th.

Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos came to Greece with ambitious plans to rescue the country from the hole that German bankers had dug. He ran the Jerome Levy Institute at Bard, a think-tank devoted to post-Keynesian wisdom, and was a Hyman Minsky scholar. Minsky is a big favorite with “progressive” economists, especially after the 2007 mortgage-backed securities meltdown. He writes all about the instability that plagues the capitalist system through chronic boom and bust cycles.

For Minskyian theory to work, it has to focus almost exclusively on the financial sector, which of course economists like Paul Krugman tended to do. Ooh, those dirty, rotten banks. However, it misses out on the real problem facing American capitalism, namely the declining rate of profit that is a function of the system’s need to replace people with machinery—and hence reduce the amount of surplus value that can be wrung from their muscles. Anwar Shaikh, who happened to have been on the staff of Jerome Levy Institute at one point, just came out with a massive study of this process. Papadimitriou’s dissertation at the New School was about the measurement of the rate of surplus value in Greece. I guess studying it helped him to extract it later on in life.

Needless to say, bourgeois economists, like the inner cadre at Jerome Levy Institute, step gingerly around the question of capitalism itself since they are far too wedded to the system on a material basis and understand as well that Keynesianism still has plenty of purchase in elite circles. Who wants to hear from an annoying Marxist, especially when his or her ideas clash with owning mansions, yachts, and million-dollar paintings. In other words, like all of the people serving on the Bard College Board of Trustees.

Bard College and its president-for-life Leon Botstein embody a culture in which people like Dimitris Papadimitriou and Rania Antonopoulos can flourish. Back in 1995, I came into contact with a union organizer from Local 100 of the Restaurant Workers Union named Brook Bitterman who was trying to apply pressure on Jerome Levy to come to terms with the workers Bitterman represented at Smith and Wollensky, one of Levy’s businesses. I gave Bitterman a copy of the Bard College alumni directory that he used for a direct mail campaign to get the mostly pinko graduates to demand justice for the workers as enunciated in a letter the union sent to Dimitris Papadimitriou:

Dear Dr. Papadimitriou

We are writing to express our concern about what we perceive to be a striking contradiction between the goals and work of the Jerome Levy Institute of Economics and the private business affairs of its founder and chief supporter, Leon Levy, who also serves as a Trustee of Bard College.

Over the past several years, the Jerome Levy Institute – Bard College’s first post-graduate institution – has become a respected outlet for academics and policy analysts concerned with growing income inequality and crisis-prone financial markets. As a union of low wage, mostly immigrant and minority restaurant workers, Local 100 is very familiar with the growing inequality in the American labor market. Many of our members and their families have also seen firsthand how financial market developments, such as the leveraged buyout frenzy of the 1980s, can have a profoundly negative impact on the quality of their lives.

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Not long after this campaign began, I received a letter from the president of the Board of Governors of the Bard Alumni Association taking great umbrage at Local 100’s campaign. It stated: “Many of our trustees, overseers, advisory board members, donors, alumni/ae, faculty, administrators, parents of students and students, have business relationships — some of which may be deemed by you or others as ‘controversial’ — unrelated to their relationship with the College. It would hardly be appropriate for us to inject ourselves into those relationships. Such is the case with the alleged relationship between Leon Levy and Smith & Wollensky.”

Yeah, who the hell would want a Bard College alumnus like me poking around in the private affairs of Leon Levy or Rania Antonopoulos? Maybe that’s the reason I’ve been removed from the Bard College alumni database and no longer receive communications from the school, either in the mail or electronically.

March 2, 2018

Breaking Point

Filed under: Film,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 9:49 pm

Opening today at the Cinema Village in NY, “Breaking Point: The War for Democracy in Ukraine” makes an interesting contrast to “A Sniper’s War” that I reviewed on February 9th. Both films begin with an introduction to soldiers fighting on either side of lines in the Donetsk breakaway republic. In “A Sniper’s War”, it was a Serb volunteer and a self-described communist who joined up with separatists because he hated NATO, especially for the destruction it wrought in his native country. In “Breaking Point”, it is a children’s theater workshop director who tells us that it is “beauty, art and love” that will save the world. Those ideals convinced him to risk his life trying to recapture Donetsk just as the Serb’s devotion to communist ideals, no matter how compromised, convinced him to risk his.

Unlike “Winter on Fire”, the Netflix cinema vérité that is focused exclusively on Euromaidan, “Breaking Point” begins with the protests and takes us nearly to the state of affairs that prevails today, which leads one Ukrainian to ask toward the end of the film: “What did people die for?”

The documentary was co-directed and co-written by Mark Jonathan Harris, a 77-year old professor in the School of Cinematic Arts of the University of Southern California, and Oles Sanin, a multi-talented 45-year old Ukrainian who obviously was instrumental in getting the film to accurately represent historical events. Harris is no stranger to conflicted territory and beliefs. His 1997 “The Long Way Home” dealt with the experience of Jewish refugees after World War II but erred in serving up what amounted to Israeli propaganda according to Spike Lee. Apparently, Lee’s criticism had an impact since Harris followed up with “A Dream No More” that was intended to show Israel with warts and all. Commissioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the film was scuttled for obvious reasons after it was finished. An angry Harris complained that the Center wanted a “feel-good Diaspora jubilee film” and were unwilling to accept an honest accounting of Israel’s history.

Although my perspective on Ukraine differs from Harris and Sanin’s, I encourage my readers to see the film since it is a cohesive and largely reliable presentation of the last 5 years of Ukraine’s tortured history, including a war that has cost 10,000 lives and the displacement of more than a million of its citizens, mostly in the east for obvious reasons.

The film is best when it presents the views of ordinary citizens like the children’s theater director who said that he had little interest in politics but simply wanted to act in the interest of Ukraine’s national honor. Or a physician who volunteered his services both at Euromaidan and in Donetsk. He is a middle-aged, overweight man seen in the trailer above with little to offer in the way of analysis but critical for how he represents of the decent and ordinary Ukrainian citizenry who tend to get slandered in the left media as tools of the CIA.

The problem lies in the expert presentations, which include the former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk who offers platitudes about how democracy cannot be built in a day, etc. He claims that the “rule of law” is Ukraine’s salvation but does not go near the more urgent question of how the “rule of capital” will be Ukraine’s undoing, as the Serb sniper believed. We also hear from Anne Applebaum, the Washington Post pundit, and Yale professor Timothy Snyder who have impressive credentials as Ukraine experts even though their analysis of Ukraine’s problems tends to put all the blame for its woes on Putin.

In reality, Ukraine is impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Euromaidan was inspired by the hopes that Ukraine could become “normal” by joining the European Union. Ukrainians who worked in the Netherlands or Sweden must have been deeply envious of countries that could provide a decent standard of living and police departments that weren’t filled with thugs demanding bribes when they weren’t assaulting blameless citizens. What they didn’t count on was how the Netherlands and Sweden got there. It was by extracting super-profits from colonial peoples that helped create the conditions for the social democratic Eden that had been lusted after in Eastern Europe for generations.

Unlike Ukraine, countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have freely elected presidents that reject the EU and are adopting policies even more authoritarian than Putin, the man they consider their leader in the same way that Poroshenko looked to Obama. They had a taste of Washington Post type neoliberalism and spat it out. There is no Putinite waiting in the wings in Ukraine for obvious reasons.

Another failure of “Breaking Point” is its unwillingness to address the question of the country’s fascist elements. In an oblique way of addressing it, it includes a Jew who had trained to be a rabbi at one point in his life but became totally committed to the nationalist cause, so much now that he leads a battalion in Donetsk. When he asserts that there was no anti-Semitism in Maidan Square, he was certainly correct insofar as that was a reference to those who spoke from the platform. However, nobody can deny that some of the defense guards that protected the crowds from police attack did include anti-Semites, especially the neo-Nazis who would later on fight with the Azov Battalion in Donetsk. Ironically, the party its leader founded now opposes both EU and NATO, which, according to Putin’s apologists like Stephen F. Cohen, were supposedly the chief goal of the Ukrainian fascists.

This absence was most glaring when the film depicts the shoving match that took place in front of the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) when it signed a treaty that left Donetsk in Russian hands two years ago. The protesters were members of Right Sector and Svoboda, the two main ultra-right parties in Ukraine that needed to be identified by Harris and Sanin in the interests of transparency. After all, that is the main job of the documentary filmmaker—to tell it like it is.

The Arab-Jew: Caught Between Warring Identities

Filed under: Counterpunch,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 5:00 pm


Nearly five years ago I wrote an article for CounterPunch titled “Voices of the Mizrahim” that discussed “Forget Baghdad: Jews and Arabs – The Iraqi Connection”, a documentary that featured four Jewish members of the Communist Party in Iraq who became part of the “population exchange” associated with the creation of the state of Israel.

All four never stopped feeling like Iraqis after becoming Israeli citizens. In addition to the four, the film includes commentary on the phenomenon of the “Arab Jew” by NYU professor Ella Shohat who was born to Jewish parents in Baghdad and has written eloquently about the problems of divided identity for over thirty years. (The film can now be seen on Vimeo for only $5 and is well worth it: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/forget).

A generous collection of her articles are now available from Pluto Press in On the Arab-Jew, Palestine and Other Displacements that is of enormous importance in understanding not only the tragedy of the post-1947 “population exchange” but the ethnic conflicts tearing apart the Middle East and North Africa today.

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The shape of things to come

Filed under: trade unions — louisproyect @ 12:41 am

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